The city has yet to unveil its so-called winter plan for the homeless as nighttime temperatures are expected to dip below freezing tonight.
"Winter is here for all practical purposes," Jeff Singer, one of the city's advocates for the homeless, said. "And I know there are people who cannot find shelter."
During cold-weather months, Baltimore tries to ensure better services for the homeless by increasing the number of emergency beds available. The city also has provided a shuttle bus to the shelters as part of the winter plan.
The plan usually is in effect by Nov. 1, but city officials said it isn't likely to start until Nov. 15 this year. Joanne Selinske, director of the city Department of Homeless Services, said she would not discuss the winter plan or the reasons for its delay until she meets Wednesday with those who run the shelters.
There have been some unanticipated problems this year, said Ken Jackson of Action for the Homeless Inc., an advocacy group that monitors the city's services. A long-awaited new shelter on North Avenue will not open, apparently because of community resistance. And Jackson said he has not been able to determine if the city has a site for its South Baltimore winter shelter.
Another advocacy group, City Advocates Serving the Homeless (CASH), was scheduled to meet with City Council President Mary Pat Clarke today, and the winter plan was expected to be part of that discussion.
Singer, a CASH member, said he spent one night last week trying to track down a bed for a young man who approached him outside a city church.
"There was not a bed in the city," said Singer. "Even the missions, which traditionally are the place of last resort in the city, were filled and had no room. It was only by accident that a man walked by, knew the man and offered him a place to stay."
While shelter providers said they were reluctant to discuss the problems, Jackson, of Action for the Homeless Inc., confirmed that services this year appear to have been curtailed, in part because of the higher cost of providing emergency shelter beds.
For example, at this time last year Midtown Churches Community Association already had opened its two winter shelters, St. Ann's Church and St. Mark's Lutheran Church. This year, the openings were pushed back two weeks, to Nov. 15, and the overall schedule was cut to 120 days from 150.
Whether similar cuts will affect other emergency shelters has not been determined, although Jackson said he has heard some shelters have been asked if they can squeeze in extra beds. Much of the city's plan remains shrouded in secrecy until Wednesday, when city officials are to meet with shelter workers.
Overall, Jackson expects the city to provide about 1,400 beds, about the same number as last year. On any given night, Action for the Homeless estimates the number of homeless at 2,400, but that figure includes people who seek temporary shelter with relatives or friends.